John Anderton - Divine Retribution

Published: 22 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 193, December, 2010

John Anderton is a man well beyond his 26 years in terms of being a great artist – and he’s making some waves within the community that we couldn’t ignore…Starting from the very beginning, what drew you to tattoos? What was it about them that you liked? What is your earliest tattoo memory?

"What I like about tattoos is that they are totally awesome! My earliest memory is my friend’s brother coming home from the army on leave and him going straight to the local studio to spend his wage. He got started filling his arms and got loads of tattoos all in a short space of time. It was all just flash but we thought it looked cool as fuck. By the time we were 16 we had saved enough money to get some tattoos of our own. I remember going into the shop and just going “Errrrrm… that one” (that not so well thought out first tattoo is currently in the process being lazered off.) I did get other tattoos from the same studio, mainly because it was the closest studio but also because I didn’t know the tattoos I was getting were not that good, instead I did the same as lot of other people do and thought, 'Its good… for a tattoo' which now annoys me as the 'for a tattoo' part is rubbish. There are hundreds if not thousands of tattoo artists creating images on the skin that could easily be mistaken for a photograph. "

After that first, bad tattoo did you get more from the same place or did you try other shops? How and when did you realize that the work you were getting wasn’t of the best standard?

"After those first tattoos I had more in a few different studios until I had some really bad ones from which scared me off getting tattooed for a while. I remember wondering how to tell which tattooists are good and which are bad, I didn’t realise you could research artists and that people did actually travel to get decent work, but it wasn’t until I started tattooing that I discovered just how bad my own tattoos were."

What made you want to be a tattooer? How did you get started and what helped or hindered you during those early days?

"After getting a few of these old tattoos sorted out (covered or reworked) I figured 'I could do that,' I just knew that I could do better than the early tattoo work I had collected. I am ashamed to say I started tattooing from home and that definitely hindered me. I don’t doubt that I would have gotten a lot better a lot quicker if I had a proper apprenticeship. Luckily, at this time, I was friends with Lee Carter (owner of The Tattoo Jungle in Catterick) and it was Lee who was covering up my own bad tattoos. When Lee discovered that I had bought a machine, he definitely disapproved, 'No… why have you got tattoo stuff? You will damage your friend’s skin and they will all get diseases and their arms will fall off' but when I showed him my first attempt (a nautical star on my own leg) he paused and said, 'Hmmm… that’s your first go?' 

After that he watched me progress a bit and about a month later, he offered me a job tattooing on the weekends. I was very lucky that a few bad tattoos turned me onto my career path."

Who or what are your influences? Tattoos, art, books films, music?

"My main influence in tattooing is Bez (Triple Six Studios, Sunderland) I used to look at his work and think 'that is the best tattoo I’ve ever seen, I wish I could do that…' I would then start to improve and find myself thinking that I was finally starting to catch up to him and then I would see a new piece and just think fuuuck… 

Yes I’m progressing but he is progressing twice as fast.

I also love the work of Mike DeVries and Nikko Hurtado and they are both influential in my approach to colour realism. Similarly, I would look to Bob Tyrrell and Paul Naylor for inspiration for a black and grey piece. I tend to take inspiration from people who are awesome at whatever style I am working in at the time and approach the piece thinking to myself, 'How would they do it?'"

Some artists like to work with clients that have a clear vision, some prefer lots of freedom, how do work best; do you have a favourite kind of customer?

"My favourite type of customers are the people who come in with a cool idea and just say do whatever you want with it, that way we can bounce ideas off each other and this really helps us both to come up with an awesome tattoo. That kind of freedom definitely makes for better tattoos than when someone has very definite ideas, from the design to the application to the ink. I don’t really enjoy working that way. 

I am fortunate that I have lots of great customers who honour me with their trust so I get to do the kind of tattoos that I want to do."

Of the tattoos you’ve made so far, which are your favourites? 

"Of the tattoos I’ve done so far, my favourites are a portrait of Gene Simmons that I did while working in Norway and the one I did today, a colour portrait of a young girl with brown hair."

How do you push yourself, what steps do you take to improve your work?

"I work on improving all the time and I push myself by analyzing photos of my tattoos, I search for all the imperfections and focus on them. That way the next time I do a tattoo in the same style I am really aware of where things can go wrong so I don’t make the same mistakes again."

How important is traveling (and working at conventions) to your ongoing tattoo art practice?

"I think it is really important to travel because you get to see how different people work and how they run their studios and compare that to your own, it also builds confidence, especially when you have to talk through a tattoo and the tattooing process with someone who speaks little or no English. After working in Norway a few times I’ve even started to learn Norwegian to make it easier for me! As well as travelling, I often work conventions as they are important for getting your name out there and showing people what you can do, otherwise how will they know you even exist? You can advertise on social network sites but there is nothing like seeing the work in the flesh. Conventions have also helped me improve my tattooing because again you get to see how other tattoo artists work, I’ve learnt a lot by watching others tattoo."

Do you see your future self having large-scale coverage? Are the tattoos you have yourself different to the ones you make?

"The style of tattoos I would prefer to wear myself would be bright new school colour (In a few weeks time I’m getting tattooed by Mat Lapping) and the style I currently prefer to tattoo in is a more realistic one but I’ve only been tattooing for three years so this could quite easily change in the future. I definitely see myself as a tattoo collector as well as a tattoo artist. I love the look of large-scale coverage and the only part of me that I don’t plan to tattoo is my face."

Where do you see tattooing going in the future? What do you hope to achieve personally?

"In the future, I see tattooing just getting bigger and better until there are so many good artists that the bad tattooists won’t get any work. The industry will self cleanse, in a way, the talent will just keep rising to the top. At least, that’s what I would like to happen." 

Finally, who are your tattoo heroes?

"My biggest hero and the person that I need to thank the most is my fiancée, Sam. She has helped me so much with my career so far, I am so lucky to have her full support in everything I do, she is my best friend and I literally wouldn’t be where I am now without her. I also need to thank Lee Carter for giving me that first chance, letting me work in his shop and getting me into the industry properly and Martin Robson for giving me a job when I thought I was going to have to quit tattooing after The Tattoo Jungle closed. Especially as he didn’t even have enough work for himself."


John Anderton at Nemesis Tattoo Studio

4 Vane Terrace
Co. Durham
Tel: 0191 5811180 


Text: Paula Hardy Kangelos; Photography: John Anderton